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Posts from the "Washington DC" Category

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TTI: Mass Transit Saved Drivers 45.4 Million Hours Last Year

Last year, the D.C. region ran away with the dubious honor of Most Congested Metro Area. D.C. area drivers wasted 74 hours and 37 gallons of fuel sitting in traffic last year, which would have cost about $100 over the course of the year. But the gasoline cost is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to the 2011 Urban Mobility Report, released today by the Texas Transportation Institute, this delay cost the average D.C. driver $1,495 once you factor in lost productivity and increased trucking times. In Chicago, it’s $1,568. L.A., $1,334.

Every year, TTI puts out their Urban Mobility Report, and every year we criticize it for its autocentrism. After all, its sole measure is how fast a vehicle can speed down a given mile of roadway. Maybe your city is dense and friendly to pedestrians and bikes, so that it’s easy to glide past the automobile gridlock on your short commute to work. Or maybe transit provides an excellent and affordable alternative to traffic jams. None of that matters to TTI. If someone, somewhere, is sitting in traffic, that’s all that matters. All other measures and modes of urban mobility are ignored.

TTI doesn’t bother to figure out how much time is saved if one avoids that congestion by taking transit, but they do examine how much time transit riders save drivers by taking vehicles off the road.

How public transportation reduces delays for drivers, 2010. Source: 2011 Urban Mobility Report, via APTA.

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Advice for Policymakers: Time to Check Your Blind Spots

Last week, I left my Washington home, walked to the nearby Metro
station, rode a train downtown, walked to the National Press Club, and
settled in to hear Steven Rattner, former head of the Obama
administration’s auto task force, declare that "no one has yet invented
a substitute for the automobile."

P1_AP315_Rattne_DV_20090330213726.jpgSteven Rattner (Photo: WSJ)

This
was like declaring in an airport terminal one’s hope that man may
someday enjoy heavier-than-air powered flight, but most of the heads in
the audience nodded in agreement.

Rattner was there to speak on the topic of the administration’s
automobile bailout and rehabilitation strategy. He was hopeful but
realistic; he recognized that General Motors and Chrysler face an
uphill battle, but he believes that the government was able to do
enough to give the firms a shot at returning to profitability.

Why
that should be a concern of the government is another question
altogether, and it’s not one with which Rattner really engaged.
Understandably, I think, the administration agreed that GM and Chrysler
really shouldn’t be allowed to fail in the depths of recession.

And
then I believe they determined that if they were going to keep propping
up the companies, they ought to at least shepherd them through a
balance sheet-clearing bankruptcy and reorganization, in the hopes that
the companies might eventually make money.

But what Rattner
was careful not to address was this: Saving the car companies will not
protect American automakers’ market share, will not save the city of
Detroit, and will not really save that many jobs.

The line I
quote in the first paragraph was made in the context of an argument
about annual auto sales, and why sales totals are likely to return to
levels typically observed before the recession. Sales of light vehicles
grew to a peak of 17 million in 2005 before declining and then
plummeting to their current level, in the neighborhood of 9 million
(save for the month of August, thanks to "cash for "clunkers).

According
to Rattner, GM will break even at a level around 16.5 million car
sales. Maybe we’ll get there. Population continues to grow.

On
the other hand, households may find themselves holding on to
automobiles longer (particularly since household debts may remain a
problem for the next decade). They may also find themselves buying
fewer cars. America is aging, and households with retirees may not want
a car for each commuter. More families might opt for one vehicle, and
use car-sharing services when another vehicle is necessary.

But
now we find ourselves in a world in which GM shareholders — among
which number you and me and every other taxpayer — need sales to move
above 16.5 million to get the company back to profitability. That’s a
strange place for us to want to be.

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BART Signs Deal to Upgrade Transit Technology

IBM's Smarter Planet project, which uses technology (and sometimes plain old polling) in an effort to revamp urban infrastructure, today signed deals with transit agencies based in Oakland, New York City, and Washington D.C. to "smartly" manage the ins and outs of keeping trains and buses running.

BART, New York's LIRR, and Washington D.C.'s Metro plan to install the Maximo software, a program that anticipates and schedules preventive maintenance on rail cars, tracks, buses, and other equipment.

"There are thousands of people and parts responsible for making sure that our trains arrive on time and deliver our passengers safely to their destinations,” Randall Franklin, BART Program Director for Business Advancement, said in a statement. "Because we are managing an aging fleet while planning for the future, the efficiency of BART requires visibility across all of our assets to provide safe and uninterrupted railway services to our customers."

The move could prove particularly beneficial for D.C., which was urged by federal safety regulators to phase out the older rail car model that was involved in a fatal accident in June but found itself short of cash to fund a full-cale replacement. In a statement on the IBM deal, Metro's deputy information technology chief said a recent meeting with China's Guangzhou Metro, which also uses Maximo, helped pave the way for the agreement.
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The Power of Transit-Oriented Development

Back in the late 1970s, when Washington's Metrorail system first began operating in Arlington County, Virginia, the future of Arlington and other old, inner suburbs was far from certain. Across the Potomac, the District of Columbia was suffering from depopulation, rapidly rising crime rates, and serious fiscal difficulties.

3760052394_3a4a1356a0.jpgBallston Metro station, Arlington Co. Photo: Point Images/Flickr
Meanwhile, on the other side of Arlington, Fairfax County was enjoying a stunning period of growth. People were flocking by the hundreds of thousands to Fairfax's sprawling residential subdivisions, and employment centers popped up and grew rapidly around freeway interchanges.

The future looked as though it belonged to Fairfax County, and Arlington's decision to target development around its new Metro stations seemed quixotic and anachronistic.

But now, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, Arlington seems to have been extraordinarily foresighted in its decision to grow around Metro. From 2000 to 2008, Arlington's population grew by 10 percent -- all of it infill development, and a remarkable achievement for an inner suburb.

Even more remarkably, this growth has led to a negligible impact on local traffic. Daniel Malouff, author of the BeyondDC blog, reported this week on a meeting with Arlington's Department of Transportation, at which officials recounted some numbers that had emerged from research on the effects of county development choices.

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ZipCar Starts Second Annual Low-Car Diet Challenge

low_car_diet_1.jpgParticipants in the Low-Car Diet at Justin Hermann Plaza. One participant in a random drawing won a Swiss Bike donated by Montague Bikes. Photos: Matthew Roth
Zipcar kicked off its second annual Low-Car Diet challenge today in the 13 cities around the country where the company does business. The challenge asks participants to give up their personal cars for one month and walk, ride a bicycle, and take transit in place of driving.

In San Francisco, Zipcar provided each participant with weekly Muni passes and BART tickets as needed. Should participants need to drive at some point throughout the month, they can use a Zipcar.

Michael Uribe, General Manager for San Francisco Zipcar, stressed the economic benefit of not owning a car, saying that 19 percent of household income is spent on auto-related expenses. According to Uribe, Zipcar users spend only six percent of their household income on cars. He also said car-sharing in general is meant to chip away at the idea that owning a car is necessary, or that a family needs two cars when one is rarely used.

"Growing up, owning a car is really a rite in America," said Uribe. "This reverses that paradigm and frees up money to go back into the local economy. Also, for every one Zipcar on the road, we're replacing 15 to 20 vehicles."

Uribe himself is a recent convert to carlessness. "It took me a while to learn to live without a car," he said.  When asked how he finds the lifestyle, he smiled and said it was stress-free. "I don't think I'd ever own a car again. I don't have to pay for parking, I find myself exploring the city more, various neighborhoods. I find I eat better because I'm exploring different neighborhoods and buying locally grown organic foods."

"I eat a lot more," he added, but said he hasn't put on any weight given how much additional walking he is doing.

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Understanding Washington’s Metro Crash

redline.jpgThe scene of the June 22 Washington D.C. Metro crash. Photo: AP
The House of Representatives subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia convened yesterday afternoon to hear testimony related to the tragic Washington Metro accident of June 22.

The proceedings got off to an appropriately somber start, as California Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) used his opening statement to explain that this spring's stimulus package contained billions for a Mag-Lev rail line from Orange County to Las Vegas.

This, of course, is completely false, and the quip was entirely unrelated to the rest of his remarks. I'm sure Issa's constituents will be glad to know that he's taking transportation issues seriously.

Testimony was heard from a number of experts, and from Patrick Tuite, a rider on one of the trains in the collision, who provided a riveting account of the accident. But not much in the way of new information emerged.

The facts of the incident remain as previously understood. A recently replaced portion of track circuitry intended to detect the presence of trains on the tracks and facilitate the automatic train control system malfunctioned intermittently after installation, including around the time of the accident. The operator of the striking train attempted to engage the brakes before impact, but to no avail.

The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the matter and may not have a final report on it for some time. In the meantime, trains on the Metro system continue to operate in manual mode, and on reduced speeds and a single track at the site of the accident (creating major headaches for riders on the system, which is a critical piece of metropolitan infrastructure).

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Streetfilms: D.C. DOT Director Talks “Transportation Freedom”

Meet Gabe Klein, who was appointed to direct Washington D.C.'s Department of Transportation (DDOT) in December 2008. With a background including four years working for Zipcar, Klein was brought in to look at the city's mobility problems from a fresh perspective. As he says:

Cars are a part of our daily life here in D.C., but what we want to do is try to equalize the playing field. Encourage people to walk, to bike, to bike share; or instead of owning a car -- car share.

D.C. already has one of the lowest household car-ownership rates of any major U.S. city, so actively promoting these modes is essential -- as Klein points out -- to helping people move about with freedom.

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BRT Comes Out Ahead of Light Rail, Again

Las_Vegas_BRT.jpgBRT bus in Las Vegas looks a lot like light rail
The debate among policy makers and community stakeholders over the merits of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) versus Light Rail Transit (LRT) is often heated, and usually centers around whether LRT recoups the substantial capital costs of implementation over time versus BRT, and whether BRT has a more substantial carbon impact. Sometimes it can also boil down to a debate over whether buses are sexy enough to get people out of cars and onto transit.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) recently presented a report comparing BRT and LRT in the “medium investment” range for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) on the Purple Line, which would connect suburbs around Washington DC with the city center.   WRI’s analysis confirms that BRT is the option that would work locally to fight global warming, with a medium-investment system cutting carbon dioxide emissions by almost 9,000 metric tons per year, equivalent to taking about 1,600 cars off the road (PDF).

In an interview with Worldchanging, the report's authors, Dario Hidalgo and Greg Fuhs, address the CO2 numbers: "While this could change in the future with a major and permanent shift to low-carbon energy sources, for the foreseeable future we would likely continue to see higher CO2 emissions from light rail in this case," said Fuhs.

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